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Should we end the ban on gay clergy? Yes

By the Rev. Thomas A. Summers

The bishops’ statement that urges removal of the ban on the ordination of homosexual clergy in the United Methodist Church represents no less than a resounding and prophetic call for justice.

The UMC has long put to rest its negative restrictions as related to race, gender and ethnicity. However, a 39- year-old Disciplinary stain still exists as a reminder of a major inequality.

The ban on gay ordination dreadfully enslaves our denomination’s journey toward a more complete inclusive integrity in its corporate soul.

The continued actions to keep gay persons on the margins and away from the table of ordination maintain severe consequences.

For instance, the ban diminishes a significant historical aspect of the Wesleyan tradition: the strengthening of fellowship bonds between persons.

John Wesley once claimed that there was no holiness but “social holiness.” His passion for social care ran as a constant thread in such sayings as, “The Bible knows nothing of a solitary religion.” In its counsel, the bishops implicitly place themselves amidst this cherished social tradition. In God’s creation, no one is left out. We are reminded by Wesley: “Indeed, nothing can be more sure than that true Christianity cannot exist without both inward experience and outward practice of justice, mercy and truth.” The ordination ban disconnects the gifts and graces of our gay brothers and sisters from this treasured Wesleyan legacy.

A further lingering effect from this divisive prohibition is the perpetuation of anguish for gay persons and their loved ones. The mere fact of the presence of this unjust barrier is an affront to gay persons everywhere. It is sensed by them as one more constant symbol of an institutional disowning and rejection.

Its existence is akin to a drumbeat that pumps out a continual message so often heard by gays from segments of society and the church: “You are unnatural. You are sinful. You are perverse.” Many gay persons have been literally banished from their families and churches. Even caring parents of gay children live daily with the sting of painful loneliness because of a fear of talking with anyone about their beloved offspring. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young persons between the ages of 15 and 24.

And gay teens – many of them harmed by prejudice and bullying in their social environment – are four times more likely to attempt taking their lives than their heterosexual peers.

Gays constantly are forced to contend with the fixation that society and the church places on the sexual dimension of their lives. Often left behind in this preoccupation is a greater awareness of the deep heart-hungers that all persons – gay or straight – have for companionship, partnership and love.

In terms of the toll that anguish takes on the spirit of human lives, even the symbolism of the UMC’s ban on ordination plays its part in helping to increase that human misery.

In addition, the non-removal of the discriminatory language in the Discipline pushes the UMC further into interreligious and community isolation.

The highest bodies of some other mainline denominations have already spoken and embraced equality on the matter of gay ordination. Most notably, they are the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ. Our UMC regretfully lags behind in the growing religious march toward releasing gay men and women from the shackles of oppression.

The dominoes that once restrained this human striving for freedom are now toppling all around us. How much longer can the UMC afford to stay shielded behind some protective moat? There now is a plethora of other surrounding institutions like the military, business, municipalities and educational systems that have already instituted non-discriminatory policies on sexual orientation.

Another regressive feature of the ordination ban’s continued presence is that the additional restrictive language added to the Discipline since 1972 possesses a heightened negative quality to it. In those early 1970s, the clause stating homosexuality’s so-called “incompatibility” with Christianity interestingly appeared during the national era of political protest, the agony of Vietnam and the early stages of gay liberation as spurred on by the Stonewall Revolution. Could it be that the later more stringent restrictions grew out of this earlier seedbed of fear – a fright over the yet homosexual “strangers” no longer willing to stay in the shadows of oppressed closets?

To demonstrate further how an increased human fearfulness can aid in creating inhumane ironies, a 1996 prohibition was adopted denying ministers the pastoral act of conducting celebration services in blessing the relationship between committed gay partners.

Paradoxically, ministers continue to provide rituals of blessing for animals, a fleet of boats, a new home, a ball game, the planting of a tree or what-have-you  But blessing the devoted love and companionship existing between two gay persons is to be denied! It was a sad day when the church cast its lot toward boats and cats and not all persons.

If indeed these Disciplinary restrictions got historically and largely birthed from fear, then it’s time we untangle its destructive stranglehold that it has placed for so long on our precious UMC. We stand in need of a more graceful light of hope – one that might melt the darkness of our fright and ongoing contentions  The UMC needs forgiveness for its human sin of having hurt so badly a wonderful part of God’s creation: the countless number of faultless gay brothers and sisters.

The bishops’ wise document is a trumpet call for a transformation.

Amos’s words (5:24) echo the same: “Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-ending stream.” May justice roll through the veins of our critical candidacy, ordination and appointment life so that truly welcomed to a fuller table are all of God’s children.


Summers is a retired minister in the S C  Conference of the UMC  He served as a full-time chaplaincy director and clinical pastoral education supervisor in the public mental health system for 40 years before his retirement in 1999.

Publication: South Carolina United Methodist Advocate; Date: May 2011; Page: 5

 

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